INDIANAPOLIS -- It was an NCAA tournament of revelation. But then, isn’t it always?
We learned that Duke had four impressive freshmen -- not just the three who started. There were 18 games this season in which Grayson Allen did not score a point, including the game against Wisconsin in December. Then he put up 16 in the championship game, the Blue Devils needing every last one.
He was the forgotten Duke freshman. But not anymore.We learned that the Big Ten has this runner-up thing down cold. Wisconsin was the sixth different conference school to play in the title game in 14 seasons. Alas, they are 0-6.
We learned there is a reason the wait is now 40 years since the last perfect season. It’s really, really hard to do.
This was supposed to be a Kentucky coronation, but the thing about Wisconsin upsetting the Wildcats is that Notre Dame nearly beat the Badgers to it. And the most prophetic words of the month came from John Calipari himself early in the tournament: "We’re unbeaten, but we’re not perfect."
Or this little ditty from Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, after his team nearly took out Kentucky: "Wisconsin is a little bit like us."
And we learned that the Big Blue Nation is still an obsessed land. By Tuesday morning, there was the first letter from a disgruntled fan to the editor of the Lexington newspaper, questioning Kentucky’s reliance on one-and-done players. This after four Final Fours in five years.
We learned that the buzzer-beating dramatic portion of this NCAA tournament would largely come in one big, early fireworks show. There were five one-point games that first Thursday and there wouldn't be another the rest of the tournament.
We learned that if March is a fair measure, the Big 12 was oversold. The league that so many called the finest in the sport all season lost five of its seven teams by the end of the first weekend. None made the Elite Eight.
We learned how good the ACC really was. The league started 9-0 in the tournament. It ended with Duke alone at the top. The Blue Devils could win neither the ACC regular season nor league tournament title, but they did win the national championship.
We learned, again, what this tournament is about.
It is about the poignancy of family.
The most photogenic family album of the tournament was Ron Hunter falling out of his chair when his son, R.J., hit the 30-footer for Georgia State that knocked off Baylor. And then two days later weeping in the press conference next to his son, after the Panthers were ousted and R.J. had played his final game for his father at Georgia State.
"I love this kid," he said.
Then there was Brey, coaching Notre Dame to an overtime win against Butler, without telling a soul on the team that his mother had passed away that morning.
"She was with me all the way tonight," he said afterward.
It is about the burden of expectation.
No. 1 seed Villanova falling short again, and Jay Wright’s clear-eyed acceptance of the fallout after the loss to NC State.
"We’re not afraid to fail. We failed here in the NCAA tournament, and we’ve just got to accept it, and we’ve got to own it and live with it. But it won’t define us."
It is about goodbyes.
Rick Barnes coaching his last game at Texas, a dreary 56-48 loss to Butler, sensing his run in Austin was drawing to a close; that making the field 16 of 17 years would not save him, because the world always wants more.
"If you know anything about basketball," he said, "this tournament’s not given to anybody."
And with the Shaka Smart era ending at VCU with an overtime loss to Ohio State, it was finally time for him to move up the food chain to Texas and replace Barnes.
It is about relationships.
Arizona star T.J. McConnell embracing his coach, Sean Miller, as the last seconds of the regional final loss to Wisconsin slipped away.
"I apologized. I could not get him to the Final Four," McConnell said.
And Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer trying to cope with the Bulldogs continuious search for its' first Final Four berth, after losing the regional championship to Duke.
"It’s disappointing we weren’t there, but at the same time, these are relationships we’ll always have the rest of our lives."
It is about opportunity that the regular season doesn’t have.
A chance for Wichita State to finally play Kansas for the first time in decades, and show the Jayhawks who was boss of the Sunflower State -- at least that day.
"We don't have McDonald's All-Americans, we don't have guys that have been in the spotlight, and been given that pedestal," Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet said. "We work for everything we've got, from managers to coaches to our preacher to, you know, whoever. We've scrapped and fought our whole lives"
No team savored a win more the past month -- except maybe Duke.
It is about the impetuousness of youth.
West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. predicting Kentucky would be 36-1 after playing the Mountaineers.
It ended, you may recall, 78-39. But West Virginia coach Bob Huggins didn’t mind the bravado. "It was a freshman that said it, and I’m kind of happy he had some confidence. I’m kind of happy he wasn’t hiding under a chair somewhere, you know?"
It is about surprises, and a sudden lightning strike.Tom Izzo being Tom Izzo again, piecing together a struggling Michigan State team in time to get the 11-loss Spartans to the Final Four.
"I love to work this time of year," he said.
Or UAB upending Iowa State, giving relief to a school that just lost its football program.
It is about sudden endings.
Notre Dame on the brink of a Final Four, until Kentucky suddenly took it back. "`Very cruel," Brey said of the mean side of the tournament. "It ends fast, man."
It is about pain.
Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, so invaluable in the Badgers’ deep run, chastising himself after going 6-for-15 against Duke.
"I’m putting this one on me. I just didn’t do enough for our team. I’m pretty disappointed in myself.’’
It is about assumptions turning out to be wrong
"You can’t stop something that’s destined," West Virginia’s Devin Williams said of Kentucky’s parade toward history. Didn’t everyone think that?
Then the Final Four came to Indianapolis, and we discovered how wrong we all were. Three of Duke’s five championships have come here. So in the end, we learned something else during this tournament.
You never want to play Mike Krzyzewski in April in Indianapolis.